Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)


April 4, 2014

None on ballot

April 04, 2014 06:00 am

ASHLAND — The 2014 Kentucky General Assembly considered an unusually high number of proposed amendments to the Kentucky Constitution on such issues as casino gambling, the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons and the elimination of state and local elected offices.

So how many proposed constitutional amendments will be on the Kentucky ballot this November? Zero. Not a single proposed amendment was approved by both the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives.

That’s nothing new. Kentucky voters are rarely given the opportunity to make meaningful changes in the state’s 1892 Constitution, which in our view is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of government in the 21st Century. The last two constitutional amendments to be put before Kentucky voters — both of which were overwhelmingly approved — were the so-called “right to hunt” amendment in 2012 and the 2004 amendment restricting marriage to between a man and a woman. The hunting amendment preserves a right that was in no way being threatened in Kentucky, while the “marriage amendment  was  recently declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn of Louisville, who has agreed to delay enforcement of his ruling until after a higher court has ruled on the issue. However, while Kentucky voters were given the right to defend traditional marriage and hunting, other far more important changes in the constitution have been ignored.

Expansion of gambling was a major plank of Steve Beshear’s successful 2007 campaign for governor, but in the seven years since then, the General Assembly has failed to give voters the opportunity to express their views on casinos and other types of gambling now banned in Kentucky.  Governor Beshear has one more opportunity to put a casino amendment on the ballot, but with the gubernatorial race in full swing  a year from now, the chances of the 2015 General Assembly placing a casino amendment on the ballot are slim.

Amendments that would have automatically restored the voting rights of most Kentucky felons who have completed their prison time and probation  were approved by the House and Senate, but the two legislative bodies could not agree on the differences between the amendments they approved. In our view, that’s exactly what Republican senators wanted when they made changes in the House-passed amendment. That way, they could tell voters  they had approved the restoration of voting rights that had been advocated by such noted Republicans as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, while at the same time knowing their changes would never be approved by the Democratic-controlled House.

The House bill would have automatically restored the voting rights of most felons as soon as their probation ended. Among other changes, the Senate amended the House bill to add five years to the time felons could have their right to vote restored  after completion of their probation.

By designating its proposed amendment on administrative regulations as Senate Bill 1, Republicans were making it their top legislative priority. It would amend the Constitution to permit the General Assembly or an agency or committee it creates to review, approve, or disapprove any administrative regulation of the executive branch during or between regular sessions of the General Assembly. However, when SB 1 was approved by the Senate by a party-line vote of 24-14, even its most avid supporters knew the proposed amendment was dead on arrival in the Democratic House.

The Senate also approved by a vote of 23-15 an amendment to abolish the elected office of state treasurer but everyone knew the House would never vote to eliminate an elected  state office they have held for many years.  On the local level, a proposed House amendment to allow local governments to abolish the office of constable was never really considered.

Our own view is that in addition to abolishing the office of constable, cases can be made for eliminating the countywide elective offices of jailer and circuit court clerk. Counties would be better served if those offices were appointed instead of elected. As it now stands, even counties without jails must elect a jailer. How crazy is that?

On the state level, we agree there is no need to continue to elect a treasurer, but why stop there?  There is no need to elect a commissioner of agriculture, and the office of lieutenant governor is useless and should be eliminated. If we are going to change how we choose our public officials, let’s bundle the proposed changes into one or two amendments.

Senate Bill 195 would have reduced the number of days the General Assembly can meet from 60 to 45 days in even-numbered years and from 30 to five days in odd-numbered years. It sailed through the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 34-3, but it was never taken up by the House.

Separate bills or amendments to move the election of state constitutional offices from odd- to even-numbered years failed to advance. The changes would have eliminated the need for any elections in odd-numbered years, but it also would have created long ballots in even-numbered years and likely taken voter attention away from local elections. If not for the long ballots, we like the idea of elections every other year instead of annually.

Despite being approved by a House committee, HB 399, which would have allowed cities and counties to seek voter approval of a temporary local sales tax to fund specific capital projects, was never voted on by the full House. We think the amendment has merit and would have given local governments another option to fund needed capital projects. But good ideas often get nowhere in Frankfort.

The message is clear: Except for rare exceptions, Kentucky is stuck with an outdated constitution that forces it to fund unnecessary offices and limits the ways it can generate new sources of revenue. The constitution actually is a obstacle to good government in Kentucky.

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